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Here they stand, on pedestals. The wonder is that there are not two to a column, so packed has the elite of college basketball become. To those who have followed the game over the past few eons, it is no surprise that UCLA again is the choice. What does come as a shocker is that the old Bruin assistant, Denny Crum, now head coach of Louisville (rated sixth), thinks that any of 10 teams can lay hold to the title this year. There is solid reason for this judgment: Competition is stiffer than before and so are the schedules of the major colleges, including UCLA's. As scouting reports on the following pages show, not only are high schools sending up bigger and better-trained players, but an ever-increasing number of coaches are stressing conditioning. Where once it was hard to find 20 logical contenders, it is now difficult to limit the choice to 30. Fanning over the country to weigh the teams' chances are Curry Kirkpatrick on the Pacific Coast; Barry McDermott, Mike DelNagro and Susan Adams in the South; Kent Hannon, Larry Keith and Don Delliquanti in the Midwest and Southwest; Jim Kaplan and Angel Reyes in the East; and, for the small colleges, William White.
In the interest of public service and to keep attention focused on all aspects of the situation, herewith a scouting report on the UCLA student managers past and present. Bob Marcucci, who did the honors during the tenure of Lewis Kareem, was fast with a towel but could not handle warmup jackets. He always took them one at a time. George Morgan, now a Marine based at nearby Camp Pendleton, accomplished chores for the Wicks-Rowe teams and never missed a play or a pun. Les Friedman, who toiled during Bill Walton's first two years and is now in law school, was quick to the chairs but had no left hand. Now Friedman's brother Len, a junior and the new head manager, shows the most potential of the bunch. All he has to do is eat his greens and keep his proper silence.
Eating greens and keeping silent have become uppermost in the minds of the Bruins since they went out the back door of the Arena in St. Louis last spring with their seventh straight national championship. Recently Greg Lee, the senior guard, sold his teammates, notably Walton and Andre McCarter, on the joys of vegetarianism. Walton in turn has seriously taken up Transcendental Meditation. He called a team meeting to convert the players and even Coach John Wooden attended a meditation session. This togetherness, however, did not prevent the two from having it out over Walton's hair length. "When you're under a dictatorship, you do what the boss wants," says Walton. "I even had to get it cut twice. I may be an anarchist, but I'm no dummy."
The Bruins likewise do not lack for smarts in preparation for defense of the title. To replace Forward Larry Farmer there is 6'8" Junior Dave Myers, who came on like a caged savage last year; he can shoot, move and jump through ceilings. Splintery Pete Trgovich gets first crack at the wing spot vacated by Larry Hollyfield, but it is likely that Lee, an outstanding passer, and the occasionally brilliant sophomore McCarter will see more action there. Both have abandoned the point, acceding to the superiority of Tommy (TC) Curtis who, in his yapping, bowlegged way, is running the offense better than ever.
Walton and The Splendid Silkman, Keith Wilkes, who must be the most underrated player in college, will fit the post positions fairly well in their final season together while sophomore Ralph Drollinger and freshmen Richard Washington, Gavin Smith and Marques Johnson wait offstage. "This is the best team I've ever been on," says Lee. Yes, but the manager is a rookie.
2 NORTH CAROLINA STATE
If you have most everybody back, except maybe a cheerleader or two, from a team that last year went 27 and zip, won a conference title, a couple of tournaments and the hearts of thousands, then obviously what you should be practicing is how to defense that congratulatory phone call from the White House.
But North Carolina State is doing no such thing. It may have David Thompson, the man who beat the Russians last summer, and Monte (Captain Crazy) Towe and Tom Burleson, who always can find work as an elevator in a Raleigh skyscraper, but the Wolfpack also has rampant caution. As Burleson puts it, rather without imagination, "We're going to play them one game at a time."
That means North Carolina State is not ready to say it is better than You Know Who, a question that will be partially resolved when YKW and N.C. State go halfway across the country to meet each other in St. Louis on Dec. 15. That game, some say, will be for the real 1973 NCAA championship, a little plum the Wolfpack was not allowed to reach for last season because it was on a year's probation for recruiting violations.